NEW YORK — Live studios, a staple of early morning news shows, have become equally popular with cable nets targeting a younger demo. But in this case, it’s not simply about waving frantically and blurting declarations of love.
What’s different for the younger set is they are now given a chance to play tastemaker and take part in programming. And as the banter and hijinks take place onstage, suits behind the scenes are taking note of their choices.
In some ways, the shows lie in the evolutionary chain from “American Bandstand,” which invited kids into a studio to assess the merits of a song’s beats and danceability.
“If we wanted to try something new out and see if they pick it, that’s an indicator. We also get to see the ratings,” says Nickelodeon’s G.M., Cyma Zarghami, which recently bowed “U Pick Live.” “If we air something for 11 minutes, we don’t take that big a hit if it’s not a hit.”
The most recognizable series of this type is MTV’s “Total Request Live,” which started the trend in 1998. About 600,000 viewers tune in each afternoon between 4-5 p.m. ET. Hundreds more clog the streets of Time Square seeking a chance to get invited upstairs.
“It’s a place to see and be seen,” says cable consultant Ray Solley. “It gives a physical locale to the channel, the same way Carson Daly gives a personality to a daypart.”
BET’s urban-oriented “106 & Park” is now nearing its third anniversary and has since relocated to a midtown location.
Taped before a live audience of 150 on weekday afternoons, it airs the following day at 6 p.m. Each afternoon it averages 700,000 viewers, outperforming “TRL.” Each week, strip showcases fans aspiring to be emcees with its “Freestyle Friday” challenge.
Nick’s “U Pick Live” was launched last fall as a temporary experiment. It’s now the network’s second-highest-rated timeslot after Saturday morning. The strip delivers an average of 2.7 million viewers in its 5-7 p.m. slot.
Show, which targets 8- to 14-year-olds, invites about 15 upstairs into a studio in Viacom’s 1515 Broadway headquarters. The rest of the interaction comes from online input, phone calls and post cards. Kids control the action, from which cartoons will air to what the hosts will wear.
The latest studio space was unveiled by upstart music channel Fuse in late May.
Streetfront $12 million space in the middle of midtown Manhattan plays host to “IMX: Interactive Music Exchange.” A quartet of racially and genre-diverse young hosts — known only by their first names — emcee the hourlong program. It pulls in 15,000 total viewers between 6-7 p.m. each evening.
To up the ante beyond unspooling videos, hook of “IMX” is that it allows the viewers to invest and trade musicians and singles like stocks with virtual IMX dollars.
Because these strips so specifically target their demos, Syracuse U. media professor Robert Thompson thinks the programs are the natural evolution of “Bandstand,” with modern technology thrown in.
“They’re a rediscovery of the youth lifestyle show,” Thompson says. “The viewers are as interested in the audience as they are in the program itself. It becomes an opportunity to download style, language and all the rest of it. It’s never going to look like an adult lifestyle show — like ‘Martha Stewart Living.’ “